25949_000_004Maybe I was just being a tough guy, but how could I get along with my stepdad when we were so different in so many ways?
In the years we lived as a single-parent family, my mom and we children developed a unique bond. We established a Friday night tradition of watching movies and playing games while “waiting up on Mom” to come home from her dates. We also had memorable family home evenings, singing favorite Primary songs around the piano.
When the announcement came that Mom was getting remarried, we were happy and excited for the change. A light in her eyes radiated hope for the future and relief to bear a lighter load. Our warm excitement, sadly, cooled off as we confronted some of the problems many stepfamilies face.
My personality, in particular, clashed with our new father’s in every way. He communicated differently than I, showed emotions differently, and even joked differently. When we gathered for family night, I could not understand why he didn’t sing with us. My mom explained that he simply did not like singing. It seemed he didn’t like to do anything I liked to do, and I most certainly was not interested in any of his hobbies. These dissimilarities built a wall between us.
As time went on, we tolerated more than loved each other. The tension between us hurt my mother. I stubbornly questioned almost every authoritative decision my stepdad made. On several occasions I vented my feelings to my mom. Each time, she pleaded with me to try to understand my dad and see the best in him. I tried, but it was just too hard.
While I was in high school, the animosity between us grew. I even considered not calling him Dad anymore. After all, I thought, he wasn’t really my father. Should I have been calling him Dad all these years? My negative thoughts escalated until my emotions could be bottled up no longer. One night, I yelled words to my mother that pricked her heart like needles. I stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind me.
Alone in my car, I felt an uncomfortable void of the Holy Ghost. The ugliness of the scene I had caused played over again in my head. In my fury I had suggested that my mom should leave my stepdad. Now, filled with sorrow, I realized that breaking sacred promises she had made with my stepdad, and with God, wouldn’t bring her or us any happiness. Why did I ever say such terrible things? That lonely night I decided to change. Skeptical that a relationship of love could be built after years of struggles, I determined to at least accept my stepdad’s role as my mom’s eternal companion. I did not want to damage their marriage.
Before, in prayer, my pleas were that the Lord would somehow change my stepdad. Now I prayed that the Lord would help me change. I asked for a softer heart. I asked to better understand someone so different from me. Love still did not come immediately. Yet it surprised me how fast the Spirit melted away the thick, icy layers of disrespect and gave me a fresh attitude. I stopped finding fault and started seeing the good.
Later that year, my stake organized an Aaronic Priesthood mission preparation camp. The week was rich in uplifting experiences. We were all soaring on a spiritual high the last night of the camp, when our parents were invited for a final testimony meeting. The spirit throughout the meeting was sweet and encompassing. My turn to stand came. I thanked Heavenly Father for a mom who had worked to keep the light of the gospel in our home. I looked into her eyes to communicate my sincere appreciation.
Just then another set of eyes caught my attention. My stepdad’s eyes looked tired after what must have been a long week. “He sure has come a long way to be here,” I thought. My mind raced through the many other times he had supported me. I thought of the early morning hour he left for work each day and of the many late nights he spent finishing projects from our home computer. I continued with my testimony, thanking God for my dad’s example. His diligence as our provider gave me a model to follow for my own family one day. When I sat back down beside him I realized the Lord had answered my prayer: I really did love this guy sitting next to me.
Our relationship has since blossomed into a friendship built on mutual respect. My stepdad helped pay for my mission. He further contributed by sending frequent letters of love and encouragement. He became one of my best pen pals and, more importantly, one of my best friends. Over time I came to recognize the love my stepdad had always had for me. Today, I feel blessed to call him Dad.
For more on stepfamilies, you can read these articles in the Gospel Library at www.lds.org: “Another Mother” (New Era, June 2003), by Tracie Hohl; “Staying in Step with a New Parent” (New Era, Sept. 1988), by Lisa A. Johnson; and “How to Unite a Step-family” (Ensign, Feb. 1987), by Jeffry H. Larson.